Mayoral candidates address cross-party outreach, stances on leadership

Sunday, August 5, 2018 - 3:53pm

Ann Arbor Mayor and City Council candidates speak at a candidate forum in Annenberg Auditorium April 12, 2018.

Ann Arbor Mayor and City Council candidates speak at a candidate forum in Annenberg Auditorium April 12, 2018. Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

With only a few days to go until the Aug. 7 elections, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) and Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, the City Council representative challenging Taylor for his seat, are clashing over Eaton’s recent outreach to Republican voters.

According to recently publicized donation records, Eaton has accepted $2,000 from Republican John Floyd, a former City Council candidate, $500 from Ron Weiser, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and $100 from Republican Ingrid Sheldon, a former Ann Arbor mayor.

Eaton’s campaign released a letter, spearheaded and signed by Sheldon and Floyd, encouraging Republican Ann Arbor voters to consider Eaton for mayor. The letter claims though Eaton has a strong Democratic record, he has challenged Taylor on a number of issues and carefully considers new regulations before endorsing them.

Taylor told The Michigan Daily he does not agree with Eaton’s engagement of local Republicans, describing himself as the more progressive candidate.

“The values of the Republican Party are entirely at odds with my values and the values of Ann Arbor,” Taylor said. “I stand for inclusiveness, integrity in government and participation in the political process. I don’t believe that accepting donations from the chair of the Michigan Republican Party and vice chair of the Trump Victory Fund and appealing to Republican voters to crash the Democratic primary is something that’s appropriate for a Democratic candidate.”

Eaton said he is not concerned about alienating liberal voters because he has a long record of progressivism. He added anyone offended by his outreach to conservatives has likely already made up their mind about voting for Taylor.

According to Eaton, his platform might resonate with Republican voters because liberals and conservatives are more likely to agree on the local level.  

“We all live in this community and we all care about the important issues in front of us,” Eaton said. “While there are national issues that divide us dramatically, simple issues like whether or not the snow is going to be plowed, whether the roads are going to be repaired, whether we will maintain our sewers to a point where we don’t dump sewage in the river, I think appeal to a broad cross-section of Ann Arbor residents and not just to Democrats.”

Taylor criticized Eaton’s record on several issues, noting Eaton opposed the 2015 council resolution on affordable housing needs, which aims to reshape housing markets in the Ann Arbor area. Addressing the resolution in 2015, Eaton suggested the city government was overstepping its bounds by altering demographics in Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti.

“My opponent has voted against the adoption of the affordable housing needs assessment, describing it negatively, in his formulation, as social engineering designed to change the demographics of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti,” Taylor said. “In my view, one of the goals of affordable housing is to promote diversity within our community.”

Eaton offered his own critique of Taylor’s leadership. He claimed the mayor has not taken decisive action on affordable housing, environmental issues or infrastructure.

“This mayor has been on (City) Council and served as mayor for nine and a half years combined,” Eaton said. “That’s the same decade during which our roads fell into serious disrepair. That’s the same decade where we saw environmental problems like the failure of our recycling process and the failure of our infrastructure to the point where we’re periodically dumping raw sewage in the Huron River.”

In Eaton’s opinion, Taylor’s response to the discovery of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in Ann Arbor’s drinking water has also been lacking.

“The city has known about that contaminant in our drinking water for a while, and we still haven’t taken the preliminary steps to address it,” Eaton said.

Ultimately, Eaton said, the 2018 mayoral race is about leadership.

“The promises that the current mayor is doing, what he will do for the next four years really reflects what he and his majority have not done for the last 10,” Eaton said.

Ian Robinson, president of the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation, said his organization appreciates Eaton’s willingness to challenge the current administration, especially on labor issues. Robinson’s organization backed Taylor several times in the past but endorsed Eaton in the 2018 mayoral race.

Robinson said Eaton pushed through a 2015 resolution on prevailing wage, a required minimum wage for construction workers that helps keep union contractors competitive. Since the 1990s, Robinson said, Ann Arbor has had trouble with employers not paying prevailing wages. Robinson said in recent years, city administrators have hesitated on passing legislation to better enforce and monitor prevailing wage, but Eaton helped bring the issue into the spotlight.

“Jack said we’re going to get that done, we’re going to pass, if necessary, a resolution,” Robinson said. “Mayor Taylor, while sort of saying, ‘Well, I’m in favor of unions, I think we should do something about this,’ was never willing to challenge these administrators who were telling him it couldn’t be done at a reasonable price until we build a majority led by Jack on the City Council.”

In general, Robinson thinks Ann Arbor has a problem with part-time, elected representatives not standing up to higher administration.

“Practically, oftentimes, the electeds defer to the full-time administrators who claim the expertise and have the time and have the information, which they may or may not choose to share with the electeds,” Robinson said. “Oftentimes what really is going on below the surface is administrators are running the show and they resent it when the electeds try and hold them accountable or change their course of action. And that’s why sometimes, you really need to fight them.”

Taylor agreed the fundamental difference between his politics and Eaton’s is their approach to leadership, but said he considers himself more of an optimist than Eaton when it comes to the government’s responsibility to support Ann Arbor residents.

“I believe that Ann Arbor is a place that can live up to our hopes,” Taylor said. “I believe that government has a role in making people’s lives better, I believe that we should take steps to promote inclusiveness in our community, I believe that we should take steps to implement our climate action plan, to have a strong policing commission.”

The candidates clarified they do agree on a number of issues, especially social ones. Both Taylor and Eaton have been highly rated by the Jim Toy Community Center for their stance on LGBTQ issues. In addition, both Eaton and Taylor sponsored a 2017 ordinance designed to protect the information of undocumented immigrants.

“Our desire to being a welcoming, fair community is a shared value,” Eaton said.

Overall, Eaton said, his and Taylor’s political beliefs have broad regions of overlap. He pointed out over 80 percent of City Council decisions pass unanimously. Taylor agreed with Eaton, saying he and Eaton have similar values but clash on the specifics.

“On national issues, we are generally aligned,” Taylor said. “I don’t doubt him in that regard. It’s their expression on the local level where we differ.”